Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Will the real leaders please stand up?

In the last 36 hours, I have had several charged political conversations. Beginning with my attendance at the McCaskill rally where Wesley Clark spoke yesterday to a bunch of veterans, and then ending with conversations with friends and some material I found on blogs, I can only wonder who is really running our government, on any level.

Something strange has happened nationally in the past several years, we have stopped being a democracy. We have stopped even expecting to be active in politics. We react and we blame. Sure, some people still work in their communities, and some still voice an opinion, but mostly, it seems people are just complaining. I am from the old guard of "If you don't like it, fix it." The thought of standing by while others decide our fate is foreign to me, and we are better than that, as individuals, as communities, and as a nation.

One of the things I was struck by while at the McCaskill rally yesterday was the issue of veteran benefits. Not only that though, I was speaking to retired civil servants who have experienced similar unfulfilled promises regarding their pensions and healthcare. We have social contracts in this country, and we are not honoring them. We ask people to risk and risk, and to give and give. Habitually, those are the people who are paid the least, who give the most, and who we are most in danger of losing. It is the same with teachers. It is a culturally problem of value, of how we think of service. But it has become a legislative issue. Sadly, I don't see others interested unless it is their lives directly being affected. I wonder when we might actually realize that we are all connected, and that what is bad for some members of our community, or our city, becomes bad for us as a whole.

But this example of veterans' benefits fits into it all on a different level as well. We ask people to do a job, and then we are not accountable to what we have promised them. We ask our citizens to vote, to attend meetings, to give feedback, and yet we don't listen to what they say. We are a people producing America over and over again each day, and yet, while we are good enough to do that, we are not good enough to be valued or to be truly represented.

With these musings running around my head, I read the Ordinance yesterday that is proposing a moratorium on all liquor licenses down on Cherokee. In an area that so desperately seems to need businesses to help pull it up, create foot traffic, and craft some stability, I can't help but wonder why there is so much effort being wasted in fighting people who might want to open businesses on what has often been perceived as a blighted area. It seems archaic, simple-minded, and silly to blame liquor for the problems of an area. It begs the questions of the root of social problems and takes a strange Prohibition-era stance on alcohol, sin, and community. Even if we take the exact location out of the equation, isn't this a strange precedent for us to allow?

In the last two days, I have heard several people complain about local politicians, and let's not kid ourselves, we're all complaining on a national level. The point is, as I see it, my main question: when did we start to allow government to tell us what was good for us? When did we abandon the idea of our voice, of our desires and needs as being valid? I am not looking for a government to mandate my rights and wrongs, on any level. I am looking for leadership...

And here's what I keep coming back to. Several years ago, I had a bright college student who wrote a paper for me in response to a question that I ask all my students every year (kids and adults): What is the biggest problem facing our nation? Many answers are predictable: the war, rantings about Bush, poverty, AIDS. But then I read this one essay and my student said it so clearly: "Our biggest problem as a nation is our inability to elect a worthy leader." 2 key things here-- OUR inability to elect, and the idea of a leader being worthy of actually representing us. I don't see government anymore as representation. That idea that I was brought up on seems to be disappearing. Politicians are now simply power, and they each carry out their duties according to what they think is best for us. To some degree, that is the job, but on a larger scale, we have all lost sight of the true meaning of government. The issue of service seems largely lost in politics. There are exceptions, of course, but come on; service should be the rule. We need leaders, creative people with ideas and practical implementation. We do not need more people limiting our futures, nor deterring us from what might amount to great progress. Government is not the status quo; it can't be. It's forging ahead with innovation and vision.

When I teach sixth graders about government, they get it. They have the ideas (not the practical ones, often, but the ideas) and they still realize that to be a leader is a tough job and with it comes a contract. My kids understand that our government should be about leadership, but mostly it's about responsibility and fulfilling a social contract to listen, advocate, and create progress, not to block it.

We're missing something, and I am wondering what price we will pay if we continue to keep waiting for change and representation rather than demanding it. If we want good leaders, we are going to have to work to find them, we will have to reward those who are civic-minded, and we are going to have to fulfill our end of the deal, as voters. In a government predicated on checks and balances, when the balance subsides, we need to put our city in check.

No comments: